The Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, on Monday said one of the doctors that treated the Liberian-born American, Patrick Sawyer, who died of the Ebola disease, had contracted the virus.
Chukwu made this known in Abuja asReuters news agency quoted the Geneva-based World Health Organisation as saying in a statement that Nigeria had four cases, of which three were classed as ‘probable’ Ebola and one as ‘suspected.’
The death toll from the Ebola outbreak, according to WHO, rose from 729 to 887 by August 1. The total number of cases in the four West African countries affected is now 1,603.
Sawyer, who arrived at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos on July 20, died at an Obalende hospital five days after.
Chukwu said, ‘‘This is now the second case of Ebola virus disease in Nigeria. This victim is one of the doctors who attended to the patient who brought Ebola virus to Nigeria.’’
He also told journalists in Abuja that ‘‘about eight other persons who came into contact with Sawyer, and who had developed the Ebola symptoms, had been quarantined while 70 others were under surveillance.’’
The minister said, “All those who came into contact with the late Sawyer depending on the level of contact are still being traced and being invited every day and they are placed under surveillance just to ensure that the spread of disease is curtailed.”
He added that the Federal Government was currently reinforcing the technical working group on Ebola to include 35 state governments. Lagos State already has a TWG.
The minister allayed the fears being expressed by the public about the corpses that were brought into Anambra and Imo states from some countries which already had records of the deadly disease.
He said, “Medical records have proved that the corpse taken to Imo State was not carrying Ebola while test is being carried out on the one taken to Anambra State.
‘‘We are collaborating with all the state governments to establish isolation wards for persons proven symptomatic to Ebola and a 24- hour emergency operation centre.”
The minister also on Monday inaugurated an Ebola Treatment and Research Group with a mandate to carry out an extensive research into the Ebola virus.
Chukwu said the group would receive and verify claims on Ebola cure; collate and analyse researches on the virus and advise the government as may be appropriate.
The group, according to the minister, has the Director – General of the Nigerian Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development and the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research as chairmen.
He added that the Nigerian researcher, who had found evidence of Bitter Kola inhibiting the growth of Ebola virus, Prof. Maurice Iwu ,and the Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control are also members of the group. Iwu was also a former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Chukwu said, “Although the research on bitter kola was not concluded, no progress can be made without research. For now, there is no scientifically proven vaccine or drug for the treatment of Ebola.”
He assured the public that the Federal Government was doing everything to stop the outbreak of the disease but enjoined everybody to embrace good hygiene by constantly washing their hands.
Also on Monday, the President of the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria, Dr. Steven Oluwole, said that only one authentic case of Ebola had been documented in Nigeria.
He added that “the risk to all contacts of the case are theoretically unlikely to be uniform.”
Oluwole stressed the need for tracing, screening, follow-up on all contacts and effective control at Nigerian borders as means of checking the spread of the virus.
He described the virus as “a filovirus, which is transmitted to humans from contact with infected wild animals, or consumption of their raw or undercooked meat.”
The scientist listed the susceptible animals as fruit bats, monkeys, chimpanzees and antelopes.
He noted that human to human transmission primarily occurs through contact with body fluids of infected persons, adding that skin and mucous membranes are the main routes of entry.
Infected doctor is not dead –FG
Just minutes after Chukwu and Oluwole spoke, there were rumours that the doctor who treated Sawyer had died.
The rumour was quickly dismissed by the Director, Centre for Disease Control, Abuja, Prof. Abdulsalami Nasidi.
Nasidi told journalists in Lagos that the doctor had been quarantined and was presently receiving treatment .
He said, ,”We will not be able to release the name of the new contact; but we know that the person is a doctor and a female. The patient is not dead. She is alive. Experts from the local and international organisations are attending to the patient.”
Lagos plans another isolation centre, may isolate 10 people
In Lagos, The PUNCH gathered that the state government had begun renovating another centre at the Mainland Infectious Diseases Hospital, Yaba , to isolate and accommodate some of the people that had direct contact with the late Sawyer.
A reliable source, who is also on the team of experts monitoring the testing and surveillance of persons who came into contact with Sawyer, said the building would give more room for them to contain possible infections.
He said, “ We are presently renovating another building at the hospital, so that we can isolate more contacts. This is now important with the recent development. We need to increase vigilance on surveillance on persons who came in contact with him.
“For now, we are looking at isolating at least 10 people that had first contact with him (Sawyer). This is in line with the stated guidelines for the monitoring of the virus by the World Health Organisation.”
The source added that the state government might earmark the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, as another hospital for isolated persons.
It was learnt that this caused panic among health workers and patients at LASUTH.
A nurse who spoke on condition of anonymity with one of our correspondents, expressed fears that the plan might lead to an outbreak of the disease in the hospital.
She said, “We have been told that it is possible that they may bring in more people that came into contact with him (Sawyer) here. We are scared that LASUTH may not be the best place to bring anybody who may have contracted an highly infectious disease like Ebola. There is too much exposure for us, the health workers and other patients who come to the hospital.”
Earlier, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, appealed to striking doctors under the aegis of the Nigerian Medical Association to call off their strike and join the government to fight the Ebola virus.
He said the government would be offering incentives to any health worker who volunteered to work with the team of doctors treating any infected person.
Idris said, “ We also welcome volunteers from the health profession and those who do so shall be given incentives. We also appeal to residents to support the government in fighting the scourge by being cautious.
‘‘As of today, one person out of the eight people who came into contact with the late victim of Ebola has tested positive. The state has established isolation and treatment centre for the patient.
“The members of staff at this centre have also been trained on how to treat and handle patients under their care. The hospital is also provided with enough facilities to ensure that the officials and other patients do not contact the virus.
“The patients under our surveillance were those who came into contact with the late Liberian-American. And the rapid response team has been in communication with these patients who developed fever and other symptoms.
“We will not stop in tracking all those who came into contact with Mr. Sawyer. They remain in isolation until the confirmatory results are in and those who test positive for the virus will remain in isolation until they are no longer infectious.”
FCTA advises residents
In Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory Administration called on the residents to be vigilant and to report any suspicious case to a health facility nearest to them.
The FCTA Secretary, Health and Human Services Secretariat, Dr. Demola Onakomaiya, made the call at an emergency meeting with the management staff of the secretariat on the preparedness of the FCTA to tackle the disease.
Noting that Ebola virus could be devastating to families and communities, he said it could be controlled through the use of recommended protective measures.
Airlines operators to introduce masks, gloves
Meanwhile, the upsurge of the Ebola virus has been giving airline operators sleepless nights.
Investigations showed that officials of the airlines have been busy working on measures to ensure the safety of their passengers and crew members.
One of such strategies, The PUNCH learnt on Monday, is to have their cabin crew members wear gloves permanently in both local and international flights.
In addition, cabin crew members might wear masks to cover their mouths and noses, especially during international flights.
This, according to one of the airline officials, is to reduce the risk of spreading or contracting the disease.
He said, “We are concerned because this Ebola issue is a serious one and all eyes are on the aviation industry. We the operators are on our toes also because it is risky for our officials who are on duty on a daily basis. The issue of gloves may soon be mandatory for everybody and we are still looking at other options.”
US to send 50 experts to W’Africa
The United States has said it will in the next 30 days send 50 health experts to West Africa to help contain the Ebola outbreak.
The director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, who made this known in a statement, described the Ebola outbreak as “ the biggest and most complex in history.”
He said, “It will take many months, and it won’t be easy, but Ebola can be stopped. We know what needs to be done. CDC is surging our response, sending 50 additional disease control experts to the region in the next 30 days.”
Trial drug sent to US Ebola victims in Liberia
A representative of the US National Institutes of Health is said to have contacted the Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia and offered an experimental treatment, known as ZMapp, for the two American patients who had contracted the virus.
Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who work with the Samaritan’s Purse, an aid organisation, were believed to have contracted the virus from another health care worker in a Liberian hospital.
ZMapp was developed by the biotech firm, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc.
Brantly and Writebol were told that ZMapp which was developed by the biotech firm, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., had never been tried before in a human being but that it had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys.
WHO said in its statement on Monday that Guinea has suffered the highest death toll with 358 fatalities out of 485 confirmed Ebola cases so far. Sierra Leone has had the largest number of cases, 646 overall, and 273 deaths, while Liberia has had 468 cases and 255 deaths.
Who said apart from Sawyer’s, the other probable Ebola cases in Nigeria were a health-care worker and a Nigerian who had been to Guinea.